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Ford and the wife of Spike Jonze, but her film, The Virgin Suicides, is a
brilliant debut that will make SOFIA COPPOLA
a star in her own right. Words: Miles Fielder
SOFIA COPPOLA'S A SPOILT MOVIE BRAT, right? She wrote a screenplay adaptation of her favourite book, though someone else had beaten her to it and the film rights had already been acquired. But movie mogul daddy, Francis Ford Coppola, bought them back and gave her the money to make her film.
There’s more. Born in Italy during the filming of The Godfather, she celebrated her fifth birthday on the Philippines location of Apocalypse Now. At seventeen she co-wrote with daddy a segment of New York Stories. At eighteen, and with no acting training, she stood in for Winona Ryder, taking a major role in The Godfather Part III (and was subjected to savagely critical reviews). By 23 she’d co-created with a friend pop culture cable television show HI- OCTANE, and at 27 her photography and fashion designs had appeared in Paris Vogue. Her recent marriage to Hollywood golden boy, Spike Jonze. director of Being John Malkovich, expands her large showbiz family, which also includes cousin Nicolas Cage and brother Roman, director of commercials and pop promos.
Thing is, her film is very good. And truth be told — and bucking tabloid mentality — she isn’t a movie brat at all. Sitting in the foyer of a London hotel, Sofia Coppola comes across as petite (directors, like actors, seem smaller in the flesh), shy but friendly, easy-going, down-to-earth and smart. And her answers to queries about growing up in Hollywood are . . . sweet.
‘As a child, after school I’d spend all my time on a film set,’ she says,
between a few ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ and a bit of lip chewing. ‘It was so much fun being on the set of One From the Heart [her father’s neon-lit romantic musical]. You’d open a door and see Las Vegas. They’d built Las Vegas and I’d roller skate around it; it was fun being ten.’
‘But I wanted to do something outside of film,’ she continues. ‘Art
school, painting, I tried a bit of
everything, but nothing was completely satisfying. Then, after The Godfather 11] episode [awkward sideways glance and pained smile] I gave up acting. I definitely wanted to be in control of what I was making. Now I see all the things I like to do are related in a way. I made a short film [Lick the Star] — which admittedly doesn’t make very much sense — but I realised I knew a little bit about making a film, and it encouraged me.’
It encouraged her to adapt Jeffrey Eugenides’ best-selling novel (given to her by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore). ‘It was an ideal way to write a script,’ she says. ‘I never felt any pressure, because I didn’t think I’d get to make the film. I thought: “I’m just going to write it down. If nothing else. l’ll learn how to adapt a book into a screenplay.” I had this sort of blind drive towards it. Looking back on it, I don’t know what I was thinking to have that sort of bravery.’
In The Virgin Suicides five beautiful girls growing up in suburban
'They'd built Las Vegas and I'd roller skate around it; it was fun being ten.’
American during the l97()s kill themselves one after another. Adoring local boys look on helplessly and are haunted by the deaths into their adult lives. Eugenides’ book is about nostalgia for irretrievably lost youth, and Coppola’s feeling for the material is sure. (This has been attributed, in part, to the tragic death of her brother, Gio. killed in a boating accident aged 22.) Fashion (long hair, flares, purples and browns) and music (Air doing a great impersonation of Dark Side of the Moon era Pink Floyd) suggest the period setting, but Coppola evokes a powerful and intangible sense of the past through striking imagery. The result. far from being a heartrending tragedy. is a film shot through with a dreamy quality that’s partly melancholy. partly celebratory.
‘As soon as I read the book I got the feeling of dreams and memories.’ says Coppola. ‘I talked to the author and he stressed how the book is about how you remember things; it‘s not really reality. I wanted to translate that into visuals: certain colours, that thing when you remember summer days and its back lit. I wanted the photography to be really simple; something about that makes it more innocent and young. It’s got a kind of melancholy, but melancholy that’s really good. To me it wasn’t such a sad story.’
The Virgin Suicides opens Fri 19 May. See review, page 32.
was May 2000 THE usr 17